Statue of missionary toppled in Sacramento protest

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP/KTXL) — A statue of a Spanish missionary in downtown Sacramento has been toppled by demonstrators.

With fire and spray paint, protesters took aim Saturday night at a statue of Father Junipero Serra in Capitol Park, toppling it to the ground.

As a descendant of the Miwok tribe, Ronnie Gonzalez told FOX40 she sees its destruction as a victory. She’s been calling for the monument’s removal for years.

“We’re tired of asking for permission. We’re tired of compromising with people. So we’re not asking, we’re demanding,” explained Gonzalez. “It’s a disgrace for us that we have to drive past those statues every day and see people who committed genocide and torture on our people being glorified.”

The 18th century Roman Catholic priest founded nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions and forced Native Americans to stay at those missions after they were converted or face brutal punishment.

But some see the statue’s removal as an assault on their heritage, like Francis Uribe who came to pray before the base of the statue Sunday.

“It’s the destruction of history,” said Uribe.

Uribe told FOX40 that Serra is an important part of the Catholic religion after Pope Francis canonized Serra as a saint in 2015.

“We prayed to him for his help in everything that we do. So it’s something that goes into the deep hearts of all Catholic people,” explained Uribe.

The California Highway Patrol cleared the park after the statue came down. 

Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto denounced the toppling of the statue.

In a statement Sunday, Soto said “this act of vandalism does little to build the future.”

“There is no question that California’s indigenous people endured great suffering during the colonial period and then later faced the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent State of California. This legacy is heartbreaking,” he said. “Yet, it is also true that while Fr. Serra worked under this colonial system, he denounced its evils and worked to protect the dignity of native peoples. His holiness as a missionary should not be measured by his own failures to stop the exploitation or even his own personal faults.”

Statues of Serra have been defaced in California for several years by people who said he destroyed tribes and their culture.

Last month protesters pulled down Serra statues in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Meanwhile, statues on the East Coast honoring Confederates who tried to break away from the United States were also toppled. The incidents occurred amid ongoing demonstrations against racism following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.

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